I want to tell you a story, one that I hope will show why I am so passionate about helping people share their stories with others.
I was in the girls’ bathroom in 7th grade. A small group of girls hovered around me, girls who had never talked to me before. Why were we there, in a circle between the row of sinks and the beige metal stall doors?
Because one of the girls had walked in, seen me crying and generously asked what was wrong.
What was wrong? I don’t remember. But I can guess. I was lonely. I didn’t feel seen. With a quiet voice and downcast eyes, my stories were rarely heard, and subsequently I didn’t feel like anyone really knew or cared about me, even those I considered friends.
As an educated adult I can give these characteristics labels that make it easier to separate my personality from my soul. Social anxiety. Introversion. Shyness. INFP. Enneagram Four. And on, and on.
Labels or no, I wanted to be seen as much as the next person. To have my stories heard, even though I wasn’t capable of talking over everyone else.
When this girl asked me what was wrong, I didn’t know what to say. So I made up a lie. A whopper of a lie, actually, about my family, which I knew in this girl would never be able to disprove. More girls came in. I kept talking. They nodded, patted my arm, even hugged me. My lie extended, grew branches, rooted deeply in the guilt I felt betraying my perfectly normal family. It became a story that moved past me and out into the halls, where more girls who’d never given me the time of day came up and asked if I was okay.
Finally, when a teacher pointedly asked me what was going on, I crumpled and admitted defeat. I didn’t know why I’d told such an ostentatious story that wasn’t even true.
I know now.
I wish I could go back to that little girl on the edge of puberty and tell her that her real stories mattered. That she mattered. That her stories, as small and inconsequential as they felt sometimes, made her who she was. And because she matters, so do her stories.
I can’t go back and stop the earlier version of me from telling that lie, but I can help the NOW version of me. And this is a daily work in progress.
Here’s what I haven’t done: world travel, solo expeditions to find myself, stints in rehab or mental hospital, lost a limb, fought a war, invented anything, given birth to an alien creature… you get the picture.
What I have done: lived 45+ years.
Every day, I have to remind myself that even though my life has been filled with everyday, regular stories, they hold power. My power.
I matter. Therefore, my stories, big or small, matter.